Tokyo is experiencing a record surge in Covid-19 cases during the Olympic Games as the more infectious Delta variant rips through Japan, though contagion among those linked to the event appears to be relatively contained so far.
To date, organisers have announced 276 positive cases among people connected to the Olympics, including 24 athletes out of the more than 11,000 who are expected to participate. Of over 400,000 tests conducted so far on athletes and stakeholders, the positivity rate has been only 0.02 per cent, organisers said on Monday.
“There is a separation between the athletes and the various stakeholders, and the general population,” Mark Adams, International Olympic Committee spokesperson, told reporters. “You can’t reduce the risk to zero, but we have with the playbooks pretty well covered the ability to reduce that risk as far as we can.”
The so-called playbooks set out Covid-prevention measures and rules for each Olympics participant including athletes, officials and media.
Breaking down the category of people with positive test results, the largest numbers are among Tokyo 2020 contractors – third-party personnel who are contracted to the Games to provide various services – and Games-concerned people, who include those affiliated with the IOC, National Olympic Committees and Olympic Broadcasting Services. There have been a cumulative 144 and 83 cases in those categories, respectively.
While athletes in the Olympic Village are required to test daily, requirements are less strict for volunteers who have less contact with athletes. The rules are also harsher for those flying in from overseas, compared to Japanese residents.
The Olympics-related numbers contrast with the surge in the broader Tokyo area, where daily Covid-19 case counts jumped to a record 4,058 cases on Saturday. Another 2,195 new cases were found on Monday. The capital’s seven-day rolling average of cases has risen to a record 3,214.4 per day, up 106.9 per cent from the previous week.
Japan reported 8,393 new coronavirus cases on Monday, almost double the figure confirmed the same day in the previous week.
Last week, Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga expanded the state of emergency to areas surrounding Tokyo and extended it to the end of August, in a bid to contain the latest wave of infections ahead of general elections that must be called by autumn.
Before the Games began, local opinion on the Olympics was hotly divided, with polls suggesting most people did not think the event could be held safely.
Hiroshi Nishiura, a professor and epidemiologist at Kyoto University, called on Twitter for the Olympics to be stopped a day after the opening ceremony, predicting that the situation will worsen for hospitals taking in Covid-19 patients after hearing that capacity was already beginning to be breached.
While concerns and divisions remain, for now some social media analysis is showing the public mood appears to be shifting following Japan’s gold medal haul.
The virus positivity rate has also been surging for tests being conducted in the capital, nearly quadrupling from July 1. While far more of those being infected are younger people, following the country’s drive to get the elderly vaccinated first, the number of those in serious condition has also been rising. In July, the number of people hospitalised roughly doubled to over 3,000 by the end of the month.
NSW Minister for Police and Emergency Services David Elliott speaks during a media briefing in Sydney. Photo: EPA-EFE
Troops hit Sydney’s streets on Monday to help enforce its prolonged lockdown, as stay-at-home orders in Australia’s third-largest city Brisbane were extended to curb a worsening outbreak.
About 300 Australian Defence Force personnel will be deployed to the country’s largest city after New South Wales state police requested military help to enforce Covid-19 rules.
Authorities have been struggling to stop the spread of the highly infectious Delta variant in Sydney – and ensure that residents follow containment rules – with more than 3,600 cases recorded since mid-June.
With thousands of close contacts of Covid cases told to test and stay at home for 14 days, police said they lacked the manpower to make sure everyone was complying. Troops are expected to help police deliver food parcels, conduct “welfare door-knocks” and check people are complying with self-isolation orders.
“I want to stress up front again that we will be under control of the NSW police,” said Brigadier Mick Garraway. “We are not a law enforcement agency and we will do tasks that are supportive in nature.”
More than 5 million people in Sydney and surrounding areas are entering their sixth week of a lockdown set to run until the end of August. Residents are only allowed to leave their homes for exercise, essential work, medical reasons, and to shop for necessities such as food. But compliance has been patchy and police have increasingly been doling out fines to those violating the restrictions.
The defence force said the latest deployment was in addition to the 250 military personnel already working at hotels and airports in New South Wales.
In Brisbane and several surrounding regions, millions of people will remain under lockdown until Sunday after an “escalating” outbreak grew to 29 cases. Those stay-at-home orders had been scheduled to lift on Tuesday.
“That will make it an eight-day lockdown. And we desperately hope that that will be sufficient for our contact tracers to get into home quarantine absolutely anyone who could have been exposed to the Delta strain,” acting Queensland state premier Steven Miles said.The outbreak was linked to a Brisbane school student, with pupils and teachers at several schools subsequently placed into isolation.
Defence Minister Peter Dutton’s sons attend one of the schools hit, so he is among those being forced to quarantine at home for 14 days. “Having had Covid and being fully vaccinated, I have also tested negative this morning,” he said in a statement.
With about 15 per cent of Australia’s 25 million people fully vaccinated, authorities are still relying on lockdowns to slow the spread of the virus.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison has outlined a long road out of restrictions – setting a target of 80 per cent of the eligible population to be fully vaccinated before borders are reopened and lockdowns eliminated.
Australia has recorded more than 34,000 cases and 925 deaths so far during the pandemic.